The Tinnitus Service at the Manchester Royal Infirmary provides information, counselling and advice about tinnitus and the strategies available that can be used to manage tinnitus to make it less intrusive.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is often known as ‘ringing in the ears’, but it can take the form of many different sounds. It can be defined as a perception of sound when there is no external sound source. Tinnitus is more common than you might think, about 10% of adults in the UK experience tinnitus. Many people with tinnitus are not affected by it, but for others it can have a profound effect.
What is causing my tinnitus?
There are many different causes of tinnitus. It can be linked to exposure to loud noise, hearing loss, injuries to the ear or head, some diseases of the ear, some illnesses or emotional stress. However, many people may experience tinnitus without ever having experienced any of these provoking factors, and may not have a hearing loss.
What do tinnitus appointments typically involve?
Your first tinnitus appointment will often involve a member of the Audiology tinnitus team finding out more about the nature of your tinnitus and explore the feelings and difficulties it may be causing. Once the Audiologist knows more about your tinnitus they will go on to discuss the results of your hearing test and the mechanism of hearing and an explanation of the model of tinnitus. The Audiologist will also provide information and advice about the different strategies available to help manage it.
What help is available for tinnitus?
There is no medication that can be taken to cure tinnitus, but there are several things that can be done to help to manage tinnitus:
- Information/counselling – Knowing more about tinnitus and how the brain responds to the sound is an important stage in learning to manage tinnitus. In many cases when a person first hears tinnitus it can be quite alarming because it is an unknown sound and is strange and different to what is perceived as normal. It is often very reassuring to speak to someone who knows and understands about tinnitus. This can often be the first step in managing tinnitus.
- Sound enrichment – There are many forms of sound enrichment that can be used to help with tinnitus. Initially people often start to use radios, stereos and TVs to introduce sound into the environment to drown out the tinnitus. This can be helpful to start off with but the clinician will be able to provide information and advice about different sound enrichment devices that can be used. These devices introduce more passive background sound into the environment that can help the brain to learn to filter out the tinnitus.
- Relaxation – Relaxation is an important component as some people find that it lowers their perception of the tinnitus. In the modern world we often lead busy and stressful lives and it can be difficult to make time for relaxation. Even when we do relax the forms of relaxation we choose often involve some active process that doesn’t enable us to reduce our levels of anxiety or stress.
With tinnitus it is important to learn how to control your responses to stress. A member of the Audiology tinnitus team will be able to provide guidance on more structured forms of relaxation that can be effective in reducing stress and tension, so that a person with tinnitus can set up their own regular relaxation routine. For further assistance in using relaxation techniques, the Tinnitus Service at the Manchester Royal Infirmary also offers relaxation classes throughout the year for people with tinnitus. Please speak to a member of the team if you would like to be placed on the waiting list for the next course of relaxation classes.
If I have a hearing loss, will wearing hearing aids help my tinnitus?
If a person with tinnitus has a hearing loss then hearing aids can be helpful.
Firstly hearing aids will make sounds, like speech, more audible and this will help to reduce the level of difficulty a hearing loss gives when listening to sounds around you. Hearing aids are also likely to reduce some of the anxiety or stress caused by tinnitus and hearing loss when it comes to communicating with other people.
Secondly, tinnitus is often more noticeable in quiet environments and, with a hearing loss, environments are likely to seem quieter as less sound is being heard. Hearing aids will help by allowing you to hear more environmental sounds, so that more information is available to the brain which makes it easier for the brain to ignore the tinnitus.
If I have tinnitus in one ear, will it start in the other ear as well?
If you have tinnitus in only one ear this will need to be investigated by an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to determine what might be causing the tinnitus. In most cases just because you have tinnitus in one ear does not mean you will also eventually get it in the other ear.
Hyperacusis is an increased sensitivity to sound and it can be more common in people with tinnitus. People with hyperacusis can feel that sound in general or certain sounds are uncomfortably or painfully loud, even when they are not particularly intense and might not bother other people.
For people with hyperacusis the temptation can be to use ear plugs to block out these sounds, but this can actually make the situation worse. It is important for people with hyperacusis to be gradually de-sensitised to the sounds they find uncomfortable. An Audiologist can provide information and guidance on this process so that a person with hyperacusis can gradually be exposed to a variety of sounds.
Action on Hearing Loss Tinnitus Helpline (Freephone)
Tel: 0808 808 6666
Text: 0808 808 0007
SMS: 0780 000 0360
Fax: 020 7296 8199
British Tinnitus Association (BTA)
The BTA is a charity providing support and advice about tinnitus
BTA Tinnitus Helpline (Freephone)
Tel: 0800 018 0527
Manchester Deaf Centre – Tinnitus Support Group
Tel: (0161) 273 3415